A quarter of the world’s population is currently in lockdown in order to contain the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus), and a large percentage of this figure is the population of India.
The country has ordered its 1.3 billion inhabitants to stay indoors for 21 days, and while confined citizens in more developed markets are relying on mobile devices to keep in touch with friends and family, in India this is swiftly becoming a challenge for the country’s poorest.
The vast majority (95%) of Indian mobile subscribers are pre-paid, but the lockdown has left millions unable to top up their airtime as retail outlets are shut. Online top-ups are not an option for the thousands of people without internet access or online bank accounts.
Worse still, the aforementioned lack of internet access makes home-working an impossibility for many of those under lockdown. Huge swathes of India’s population face the very real prospect of burning through their savings while unable to work.
However, there is some hope as India’s major operators are making preparations to ensure that mobile and broadband services are uninterrupted during the lockdown. Additionally, the several Indian states area providing relief payments to workers, with the government expected to deploy a nationwide package.
Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea have dispatched senior technical staff to their data centres, providing transport and making arrangements for food and accommodation.
Critical network operation centre (NOC) staff are permitted by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to travel under the lockdown in order to keep services running, and approvals have also been granted for vehicles to refuel tower site generators in the event of a power cut.
COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India) director Rajan Mathews noted that operators had crisis management teams in place to ensure that all mission-critical infrastructure was functional and able to deliver advance warnings of any network failures by checking on any potential weak spots.
Telecoms technology could also play a part in providing relief to low-income and casual workers deprived of their livelihood. Expanded financial inclusion that allows mobile bank accounts to link to national ID cards should facilitate a nationwide emergency stipend for disenfranchised Indians unable to work from home.
Nonetheless, the situation for low-income workers in India is precarious. Hopefully telecoms will be able to alleviate the impact of the lockdown at all levels of the economy.